Singing is one of the most fascinating musical practices around. The reason for this lies in the fact that the voice is a completely internal instrument that is contained within each person and can be called forth at will. A choir instructor of mine once said that vocal music has a unique beauty because it is truly alive and you use your entire body to produce your own individual sound. This explains why there is so much focus within all genres of music that utilize the voice as an instrument, why most pop music has a vocal part, and why voice study is also quite popular amongst music students.
But what do you learn in private voice lessons? The quantity of skills garnered may not be completely apparent at first, but if you are looking to take your singing ability to the next level, you may be surprised by the techniques and practices that are covered.
If you ask any voice teacher what the first topic they will cover in a voice lesson is, you will hear an overwhelming response of “breathing!” The way that you move air through your body directly affects the tone quality you can produce, and voice teachers always want to establish good breathing techniques that keep the student from expending all their air at once and provide support to the voice. In simply correcting your approach to the way that you breathe, you may quickly hear a significant change in the sound of your singing voice. For this reason, there are a multitude of exercises a teacher will cover in your private voice lessons that focus on this one aspect.
The way you stand or sit while singing directly correlates with proper breathing techniques. In private voice lessons, teachers will work on establishing good posture that allows room in the diaphragm for air to expand, be held, and support the voice. Without this tall posture, singers are unable to realize the full potential of their voice in regards to projection and tone quality.
“Tone” is literally the timbre, or unique sound, of your voice. It is directly affected by breath control and space through which you sing. Many elements of your voice placement and the way you make sound resonate through airways will change the tone of your voice. For example, if you cut off air flow through the nose, even when speaking, you will produce a “nasally” sound that is muted and of a different sound quality than if you were speaking normally. The same is very true when singing, an instructor will work with you on both the obvious and more subtle nuances of creating a healthy and proper singing tone.
Diction refers to the way that we pronounce words. This principle can often be overlooked by singers who do not study with a voice teacher, especially in popular styles. In classical voice study, focus on how you shape vowels and articulate consonants are heavily emphasized, but it is also an important technique to practice in other styles as well—including pop music. Practice of diction can seem redundant, but it is very true that the way you sing words and the way you say them in casual conversation are quite different and can have a dramatic affect on the end sound result.
It is a common misconception that intonation, or the ability to accurately match pitches, is something you are born with or not. True, a portion of this capacity has been attributed to genetic ability, but for any student, it can be exercised and improved with private voice lessons. Voice teachers have many ways of practicing intonation through both listening and matching exercises that work tone and clarity, as well as staying in tune; it is no surprise that these types of exercises usually encompass about half the voice lesson time allotment, as intonation is an important aspect of all breath controlled instruments.
There is more to private voice lessons than meets the eye. Regardless of genre, voice lessons will improve the internal aspects of correct singing for students interested in both classical and popular styles. Many singers find that there is a transformation in their sound through focus on breathing, diction, and intonation, which leads to a better ‘instrument’ that is contained within.
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